The above video is making the rounds on social media in which a young girl named Elise describes her science project. Elise wants to sprout a sweet potato plant from a conventional sweet potato she purchased at her local grocery store, but it doesn’t work. Her grocer gives her the explanation that the sweet potato was probably treated with a sprout inhibitor chemical called Sprout Nip®. She tries again with an organic sweet potato, which sprouts much better. Elise finds some information about the mentioned inhibitor, and then concludes that this is a good reason to buy organic. The little girl is articulate and convincing, but in fact she is straight up wrong about the sweet potatoes. She also lacks some important perspective on the role of sprout inhibition in the sustainability of the food supply.
Why Are Sprout Inhibitors Used On Regular Potatoes?
The sprout inhibitor that Elise describes, chlorpropham, has been an important tool for regular potatoes for nearly 50 years. It is better known in that industry as CIPC. Most of the spuds grown around the world are called "fall potatoes" because that is when they are harvested. For centuries, people have spread out that supply by putting the potatoes into a cool, dry storage facility of some type - originally just a "root cellar" and in recent times large storage facilities that can handle millions of pounds. If the potatoes are stored at a temperature that is best for quality, they will eventually begin to sprout. Most consumers have had the experience of potatoes sprouting in their pantry because we generally store them at room temperature. Without the ability to control sprouting, there would be no way to maintain the consumer and restaurant supply of fresh potatoes for a good part of the year. This is even more of an issue for the increasingly popular colored potato varieties. The sprouts are also rather toxic. For the part of the crop being held in storage longer, there would be substantial waste because it isn't always possible to predict when a given lot will start sprouting.
Is It Safe?
A Next Generation Sprout Inhibitor
Sprouting potato close-up from wikimedia